LOUISIANA — The editor of Tulane’s student newspaper has finally received the football attendance records he’s been asking for since May, thanks to a settlement with the private company that holds the records.
SMG, the private company contracted by Louisiana to run the Superdome, agreed Friday to release turnstile attendance records and reimburse The Tulane Hullaballo Editor-in-Chief Ryan Jones for $625 incurred in legal fees. The settlement with SMG comes just one day before a hearing in a public records lawsuit filed by Jones seeking access to the records.
The company gave the turnstile attendance figures for the 2007 through 2012 football seasons to Tulane, which then turned the records over to Jones.
The Hullabaloo sought the turnstile records in order to compare them to paid attendance figures released by the university. Jones hoped that the records could provide some insight into Tulane football’s dwindling fan base. His suspicions were right — turnstile attendance at most of the games was less than 10,000, and in some cases barely 2,000 attended.
Jones filed his lawsuit earlier this month after SMG refused to grant his records request, claiming that as a private company they are not obligated to release records. But since SMG is contracted to provide a service for the state, the records should be public, said Scott Jones, Ryan Jones’ father and the primary attorney on the case.
SMG contacted Scott Jones on Wednesday agreeing to produce the records if Ryan Jones would sign a release. But there was a catch – SMG would not agree to reimburse Jones’ legal fees.
A Louisiana statute suggests that the winner of a lawsuit be reimbursed for any costs incurred, said Scott Sternberg, a Louisiana attorney and a member of the Student Press Law Center’s attorney referral network who is assisting Jones.
Rather than attend a hearing in the case scheduled for Monday, SMG contacted Jones at around 10 a.m. this morning and agreed to include the reimbursement of costs in the settlement.
With this settlement, Ryan Jones now plans to request additional turnstile records prior to 2007 in order to increase the credibility of his pending story.
“They still ran the response through Tulane, so that SMG can always argue that we didn’t produce these records, Tulane produced them,” Scott Jones said. “I wouldn’t want to be the lawyer standing up there and making that argument.”
“I think at this point they have established a precedent that these are public records,” he said.
By Samantha Raphelson, SPLC staff writer. Contact Raphelson by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 126.